What a sorry month. President Barack Obama has apologized for the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act. And Toronto Mayor Rob Ford seems to be on an apology tour, saying he's sorry for drunkenness, for smoking crack, for crude sexual comments and for once saying on video that he wanted to kill someone. To help people follow along, Toronto journalist Matt Elliott created a game called "Rob Ford Apology Bingo," with boxes listing various Ford responses to criticism, such as "Drunken stupor" and "First to say I'm not perfect." So far, Elliott is making no apologies for that.
1 The U.S. government has officially apologized for slavery, mistreatment of native Americans, the overthrow of Hawaii's native leaders in 1893, the Tuskegee syphilis study, the Japanese internment in World War II, the protection of Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie after the war and other mistakes and misdeeds. But the U.S. has said explicitly it will not apologize for dropping atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II. And after the downing of an Iranian jetliner in 1988, the U.S. said it regretted the loss of innocent life and paid compensation, but it never formally apologized.
2. One of the most famous apologies of recent decades was preacher Jimmy Swaggart's tearful, televised "I Have Sinned" sermon in 1988 in Baton Rouge, La. Caught with a prostitute, Swaggart apologized to his wife, his son, his church, his fellow evangelists and his God. Three years later he was found with a hooker again, but this time he told his congregation: "The Lord told me it's flat none of your business."
3 A candidate for the most-belated mea culpa came from the Roman Catholic Church, which admitted in 1992 that it shouldn't have punished Galileo Galilei 360 years earlier for suggesting the planets revolved around the sun.
4 In 1934, Japanese Emperor Hirohito was visiting the city of Kiryu when his entourage was directed on the wrong route. The mistake meant people along the road weren't properly dressed, and he arrived at his destination before the reception committee was ready for him. About a week later, all of Kiryu's 65,000 residents faced southeast to the palace at Tokyo and observed a minute of silent prayer to express their apologies.
5 The art of public apologies includes the "if" apology ("I'm sorry if you were offended") and the autopilot apology ("mistakes were made"). There's also the surgical apology, as shown by George W. Bush after a 2000 campaign gaffe in Naperville. An open mic caught Bush telling running mate Dick Cheney that New York Times reporter Adam Clymer was "a major league (expletive)." Bush later said: "I regret that a private comment I made to the vice presidential candidate made it through the public airways." But he didn't express regret for saying it, and he didn't apologize to Clymer.
6 After The Associated Press' Edward Kennedy and other reporters witnessed the Nazis' formal surrender on May 7, 1945, allied censors ordered them to keep it secret for 36 hours so the Soviets could stage another ceremony. But Kennedy heard the news on German radio and decided to go with the story right away, in one of the biggest scoops in history. His reward? The AP fired him. Sixty-seven years later, the news agency apologized. "It was a terrible day for the AP," president Tom Curley said. "It was handled in the worst possible way." The apology was too late for Kennedy; he died in a traffic accident in 1963.
7 After an amphetamine-pumped Johnny Cash started a wildfire in Los Padres National Forest in California in 1965, the blaze devastated the endangered condor population: 49 of the region's 53 birds were killed. At a deposition later, he was asked if he started the fire. He responded, "No. My truck did, and it's dead, so you can't question it." (He admitted in his autobiography that he was also high during the questioning.) He was then asked if he felt bad about what happened to the birds. He unapologetically said, "I don't give a damn about your yellow buzzards. Why should I care?"
8 Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, who was excommunicated after calling for Pope Gregory VII's resignation and appointing his own bishops, stood barefoot in the snow for three days in January 1077 to apologize in the hope that the Holy Father would lift the excommunication. Gregory did so, but Henry was back at it in a few years and was excommunicated again.
9 After Madonna received a bouquet of hydrangeas from a fan in 2011, she sniffed, "I absolutely loathe hydrangeas." The negative reaction to Madonna's remark inspired her to produce a short video in which she pretended to apologize to hydrangeas but then stomped on them and said she liked roses better.
10 Apologies are generally seen as gracious gestures, but George Steinbrenner was an exception to the rule. The New York Yankees owner issued a written apology to Yankees fans after his team lost the 1981 World Series. That not only annoyed his own players but seemed to disparage the team that had won, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
SOURCES: "The Politics of Official Apologies" by Melissa Nobles; "Lives of the Popes" by Richard P. McBrien; "The Church in History" by B.K. Kuipe; "Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation" by Nicholas Tavuchis; "Cash: The Autobiography" by Johnny Cash; "The Art of the Public Grovel" by Susan Wise Bauer; "The Role of Apology in International Law" by Richard B. Bilder; americanrhetoric.com; upenn.com; wsj.com; metronews.ca; pinstripealley.com; nj.com; usmagazine.com; Chicago Tribune; BBC News; Los Angeles Times.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun